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The year in the copse, following the 2006 AGM on May 4

April 3, 2007 2007 Spring No Comments

May: Donated hedging planted along bridge abutment (wire fence removed). Volunteer from Workability joined Wednesday work group. Both BHCCG site notice boards remade waterproof . Site walk for Havant Wildlife Trust. Leaflet box post which had been thrown into Brandy Hole Pond replaced with a more substantial metal post.

June: Tagging of all mature trees in the Copse in progress. Location map of all mature trees prepared for survey work . Site walk with Emma Livett, CDC Environment Officer. Request for leasing triangular field to BHCCG via CDC . “You are here” label added to information boards, which unfortunately were deteriorating. Beetle trapping event by Chichester Natural History Society.

July: Site visit by Chichester in Bloom judges. BHCCG talk at St. Wilfrid’s Hall for Chichester Festivities. Guided walk with Society for Chichester Festivities. Vandalised stile E12 repaired. Small seat installed in glade area. Pond dipping platform installed at Cops Pond. Ten ducklings disappeared from Brandy Hole Pond after two days.

August: Butterfly Conservation Society visit to LNR. Moth and bat evening event, Chichester Natural History Societ . CDC replaced damaged Centurion Way dog waste bin. Damaged Brandy Hole Pond platform repaired. Water level in ponds lowest ever. Damaged glade seat remade more substantially. Rotary Club talk.

September: Entrance E7closed off (to be replaced by a hedge). Entrance E8 repaired. Strimming along Brandy Hole Pond bank by CDC. Volunteers joined from Breakdown Support Employment Services and Workability Agency

November: Vandalised traffic sign at access E3 replaced. Pedestrian entrance E10 rebuilt as a stile. Damaged litter bin replaced by CDC at Brandy Hole Pond. Repairs to E1 access stile. Invasive weed and debris removed from ponds.

December: Installation of seven bird boxes produced by the Wrenford Centre. Damaged info panel at Willow Pond replaced by spare panel. Buckthorn alder whips planted with Chichester Natural History Society. Need for roadside hedging replacements assessed with Crumblies. CDC urged to replace stolen Brandy Hole Lane road sign.

January 2007: Work on providing additional footpath on eastern part on Brandy Hole Lane cancelled indefinitely by WSCC. E7 access permanently closed with banked soil and hedging planted.

February: Ducks’ nesting area at Brandy Hole Pond protected. Dangerous hides removed. Brandy Hole hedging replaced as required by Crumblies. Stakes cut for Chichester Tree Wardens project. Patches of invasive brambles strimmed. Woodcrete nesting boxes secured to numbered trees.

View to Willow Pond

This view southwards through the Copse to Willow Pond was created by the Crumblies when they opened up one of several glades – which are providing valuable new habitat for insects and plants.

Listen to the evening songs

October 2, 2006 2006 Autumn No Comments

One of the pleasant things to do at this time of the year is to walk in the copse on a warm sunny evening to listen to the sounds around you. The bird calls are delightful.

We have been intrigued by the disappearing ducks. A while back a dozen or so ducklings appeared overnight on Willow Pond, stayed for one or two nights, then walked to Brandy Hole Pond, only to disappear completely the next day. Where did they go to? Perhaps they knew that the pond would dry up. The water level in all our ponds is determined by the water table, which is now at the lowest we have ever seen it. We will shortly need to remove most of the fish from Brandy Hole Pond by netting.

Unfortunately we still suffer from occasional vandalism. The dog bin on the Centurion Way crossing was broken off and had to be replaced. The platform at Brandy Hole Pond was badly damaged and had to be repaired, and the nearby leaflet box post which was pulled up and thrown into the pond has been replaced with a metal post.

The three entrances at the parking area need some attention. The northerly one has collapsed and we have taken the opportunity to close it off and continue the hedge along the roadside, which is kept in such good condition by the “Crumblies”.

The Wednesday working group have been active throughout the year on pond and woodland maintenance. A dipping platform has been built at Cops Pond, following our very successful pond dipping event. Repair and maintenance of paths steps and entrances will continue, and management of the glades to encourage butterflies.

In response to demand we intend to add more discreetly placed seats for the benefit of visitors as we have done in the glade area.

The CDC has been asked to install “cycle path” signs each end of the path linking Centurion Way with the Lane.

We understand that at long last the WSCC has finally conceded to our request for a safe pedestrian access to the Copse from Summersdale and proposes to start work to complete the footpath along Brandy Hole Lane in October. Unfortunately we have not been able to persuade WSCC that a 30mph speed limit is necessary along the parking area. So care is still needed when visiting the Copse and alighting from cars.

Jim Ayling, Task Leader

A place of history and much modern interest

October 2, 2006 2006 Autumn No Comments

Many new members have joined Brandy Hole Copse Conservation Group this year. The two following articles help to set the scene for those who are not familiar with the history of the Copse and some of its most obvious inhabitants, the birds.

Brandy Hole Copse includes the woodland known as East Broyle Copse and part of the Chichester Entrenchment System. This dyke, now registered as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, is believed to have been constructed during the Iron Age.

The Copse occupies some 15 acres of oak and coppiced chestnut woodland along the south side of Brandy Hole Lane and is partly owned by the District Council, with the remainder leased from two local landowners. There are five ponds and some examples of the remaining World War II antitank defences still in position.

The names Brandy Hole Lane and Brandy Hole Pond, at the eastern end of the site, come from the brandy casks discovered in a cave when the Chichester to Midhurst branch of the London Brighton & South Coast railway line was built in 1881. This line, which passes through the Copse, was last used in 1991 for transporting gravel. It was then purchased by West Sussex County Council and opened in 1995 as a pedestrian and cycle path known as Centurion Way.

There are references on early maps to “Roman” and “Smugglers” caves radiating from the dyke. The “Roman” caves were probably natural holes in the ground caused by a subsidence when rain leaches out the sand from the gravel, leaving a vertical hole, a common feature in the area. In 1841 a cave was discovered that extended for 158 feet northwards under the gravel. In it were bottles dating from 150 years earlier. This may have been the “Smugglers” cave indicated on the 1912 map. In 1795 the Chichester diarist John Marsh records how the Company of Volunteers, to which he belonged, marched from the Council House to the Broyle where they practised with their muskets in a disused gravel pit. This may well be the gravel pit that can still be seen in the Copse.

The great storm of October 1987 swept across southern England in a swathe from the Isle of Wight to the Wash and destroyed millions of mature trees. Many of the trees in what is now Brandy Hole Copse were blown down, causing extensive damage to the banks of the dyke system. Chichester District Council removed most of the fallen trees and appealed for a group of volunteers to manage this area of woodland and maintain it for public use and recreation.

The following October at a well-attended public meeting, chaired by Helen Carlton, the Brandy Hole Copse Conservation Group was formed. I was the chairman and committee members were Helen Carlton, Jim Morris, Peter Sykes, Henrietta and Hugh Wingfield-Hayes, Tony Johnson and Len Eyles. Advice was sought from the Sussex Wildlife Trust, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers and the West Sussex County Council.

With the help of a financial grant from Chichester District Council, and the agreement of the landowners, a small working party was set up to clear the undergrowth and begin a programme of conservation recommended by the SWT Management Plan.

The first major task was to erect a post and rail fence for 300 yards along the roadside boundary of the Copse. This was done in one day by a platoon of soldiers from the Royal Military Police Roussillon Barracks as a local community project. They also cleared the ground and laid a footpath along the base of the dyke, and excavated the wetland areas at the western end to create Willow Pond and Cops Pond, which was named in recognition of their hard work.

Donations from Summersdale Residents Association and BHCCG enabled the WSCC in 1997 to purchase the privately-owned strip of land on the south side of Brandy Hole Pond for a public right of way, thereby finally allowing free access to the Copse from Bristol Gardens.

The BHCCG volunteers managed the copse for 12 years until August 2001 when Chichester District Council designated the Copse as its first Local Nature Reserve and established a Management Board. The first meeting of the board in November 2001 was chaired by Barry Fletcher. Members represented various groups who had an interest in the Copse and an initial Management Plan was drawn up to establish a future programme of tasks. At a ceremony in the Copse on in May 2002 English Nature presented a plaque to the Chairman of the District Council to mark the establishment of the Copse as a Local Nature Reserve. With the aid of a grant from English Heritage, CDC provided three large oak lectern frames with information panels, placed at strategic points. BHCCG has installed stiles at various access points and laid paths and built flights of steps for visitors’ safety. The group has put up many bird, owl and bat boxes and arranged surveys of the bird and insect populations throughout the year, with the help and guidance of the Chichester Natural History Society.

Help over the years has come from the Royal Military Police, Bishop Luffa School sixth form volunteers and the Crumblies, a volunteer group which specialises in hedge-laying and glade clearance tasks. Members of BHCCG carry out most of the work of maintaining the ponds and the woodland with weekly sessions throughout the year.

The Copse is used by local schools for environmental studies and is a safe area for children, walkers and dog owners. Guided walks and illustrated talks are available on request and “The Story of Brandy Hole Copse” is an informative BHCCG publication.

Though there are many access points for pedestrians, sadly the area is unsuitable for wheelchair users. Cycle anchor points are situated at the main entrances but cycling in the Copse is prohibited. There is limited car parking in the lay-by at the western end (pedestrians should take care crossing the derestricted road).

Jim Ayling

Dragonflies in the Copse

Dragonfly

A good year for dragonflies

This year has been a good one for butterflies and dragonflies in the Copse. In particular many of you may have noticed the numbers of dragonflies flying there, and I thought it might be interesting to say a little about these fascinating insects. Before that, however, there are two common misconceptions about dragonflies that need to be corrected.

Firstly, dragonflies do not sting! They may look ferocious and have long narrow abdomens, but they do not sting and are quite safe to humans. Secondly, dragonflies spend most of their adult lives away from water. It is true the larval stages live in water – perhaps in Willow Pond – but the final adult stage spends much of its aerial life away from water.

The full-grown larva climbs the stem of a plant at the edge of the pond. At the top of the stem, it dries and the adult insect emerges. This adult spends weeks flying along rides and woodland edges where it feeds on smaller insects.

When sexually mature it returns to the pond to mate. The mated female will lay her eggs in the water so starting the cycle again.

Two main types of dragonfly will be seen as you walk through the Copse. The larger are the hawkers. These “hawk” (that’s how they got their name) along woodland edges and rides searching for prey, and are fast, acrobatic fliers in the sunshine.

The two most common species in the Copse now are the southern hawker and the migrant hawker.

A medium-sized brown or red dragonfly will be a darter. These sit on suitable perches – being especially fond of the top of dead foxglove stems. From these perches they watch for insect prey, “darting” out (again the source of their name) to catch it before returning to their perch to eat it.

Most darter dragonflies in the Copse are common darters – the male is red and the female brown – although the ruddy darter may sometimes be seen over Willow Pond. Damselflies are much smaller insects which fly with shimmering wings over the water in Willow Pond. It has even been suggested that the shimmering of a damselfly’s wings in flight was the origin of the idea of fairies! Several species of damselfly frequent the Copse including the azure, common blue, blue-tailed and large red. The last-named will be the first damsel seen in the year – look for it over Willow Pond from mid-April onwards.

Of the 39 species of dragons and damsels resident in Britain, 11 have been seen in the Copse. In addition to the hawkers mentioned above, other large dragons include the emperor, broadbodied chaser and the hairy dragonfly. The hairy is the first large dragonfly to appear in the year – look for it from early May onwards. It has been noticeable this summer how much use the dragonflies are making in the Copse of the new areas of coppiced sweet chestnut and the rides cut by the Crumblies. Their conservation work is beginning to pay off!

Mike Perry

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